Today, Boxee announced it would be releasing a new Internet STB, called BoxeeTV, November 1st. The device is a little different to the Boxee Box the company released with D-Link. First, at $99 it’s over $100 cheaper than the D-Link box. As well, the box focuses much more on live TV viewing. The Boxee Box required the user to purchase a USB TV tuner dongle to watch broadcast television. But the new BoxeeTV comes with two tuners built in.
Why include two tuners? Boxee is also launching a new cloud DVR service. Including dual tuners allows the user to watch one channel while recording another. The company is partnering with Amazon Cloud Services to provide the network DVR service. There will be a monthly charge of $14.99 a month for the cloud DVR service. For this monthly fee, the user will have infinite cloud storage and will be able to keep as many recorded shows as they like. As well, the user will be able to fast-forward and rewind shows although 30 second skip and pause functions will not be provided. Access to shows is allowed from any browser as well as through the STB.
Avner Ronen, CEO of Boxee, says he wants to support broadcasters by making sure existing revenue models are supported. For example, he does not want to allow consumers to easily skip all the ads, hence the exclusion of the 30 second skip. As well, Boxee will provide ad insertion services so content that is over 3 days old can have new ads inserted. Mr. Ronen says he is currently in discussion with broadcasters about ad insertion and other revenue models for the recorded content.
The network DVR has a unique architecture. According to Mr. Ronen, when a consumer requests to record a show, at the appointed time one of the BoxeeTV tuners is tuned to the channel. The STB then digitizes the TV signal and starts uploading the show to the cloud over the consumer’s home broadband. In this way, a viewer can start watching a recorded show just a few minutes after the recording has started. Although Ronen did not detail precisely how the recording process works beyond what has been stated, we can draw some interesting conclusions.
Since there is very limited storage in the box – no hard disk is provided – the show must be uploaded in real time. This means the quality of the recording of the show is bounded by the upstream bandwidth of the broadband connection.
What does this really mean? If your broadband only has 1 mbps upstream, as most US broadband connections have, the quality of the recorded show will be standard definition (around 800kbps.) So, even if you record from an HD channel what you play back will be SD. However, if you are fortunate to have a 5+mbps upstream connection your recording will be HD quality.
On a smaller screen, like a smartphone, the quality difference may not be noticeable but on a 32+” TV screen the difference will be jarring. This is liable to blunt the appeal of the Boxee nDVR in the short term.1
Notwithstanding the limited quality of the recordings this is a bold move by Boxee. The appeal of the anywhere access to recorded shows and infinite storage may well find favor with many existing Boxee users and may also help the company win some new converts along the way.
1 The reader should note that we have not yet tested BoxeeTV and have not confirmed the quality will be as stated here. However, given the architecture described by Mr. Ronen to TDG on October 15th, 2012, it is very likely the quality and performance will be as outlined.